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Texans Continue to Feel the Economic Downturn, According to Poll Results

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posted: Monday March 16, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — Texans remain negative about the national economy and their personal economic situation, and still are not strongly engaged in the run-up to the 2010 statewide election, according to a statewide survey released today (March 16).

The poll, conducted by members of the Department of Government and the Texas Politics project at The University of Texas at Austin, surveyed 800 Texas residents between Feb. 24 and March 6.

The survey found that 81 percent of those polled said the country was worse off than a year ago, down somewhat from the October 2008 response of 88 percent. Texans' perceptions of their individual economic situation also eased slightly but continued to reflect economic difficulties, with 41 percent saying they were worse off than a year ago, 42 percent saying they were about the same and 17 percent saying they were better off.

Texans were asked about a selection of issues being discussed in the 81st Texas Legislature currently underway in Austin, and were surveyed about their early views of the candidates emerging in the very early stages of the statewide races in 2010.

Among the highlights of the results:

  • The survey found strong support (69 percent) for requiring voters to present a photo identification when casting their ballots. In a separate true or false item, 42 percent incorrectly identified as true a statement that voters are now required to present a photo ID in order to vote. Forty-nine percent correctly identified the statement as false, and 9 percent said they didn't know.
  • When asked if they supported or opposed reinstating legislative control over tuition rates at Texas public colleges and universities, 48 percent expressed support, 26 percent were opposed and 27 percent didn't know. In a separate question, 61 percent said that the amount of state revenue used to make higher education more affordable should be increased.
  • When presented with a range of policy proposals related to gambling and gaming, allowing full casino gambling was the most popular response (40 percent), with 16 percent opting to leave gambling laws unchanged.
  • Of the respondents who said they intended to vote in the Republican primary in 2010, probable candidate U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison led Governor Rick Perry 36 to 30 percent, with 11 percent saying they would support someone else and a substantial 24 percent undecided with the primary still a year in the future. (The Democratic field had not taken shape at the time the survey was designed.)
  • A set of items asked respondents to rate the likelihood they would vote for each of the six Republicans and two Democrats now expressing interest in running for the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Hutchison should she vacate the office to run for governor. In head-to-head match ups, Republicans enjoyed advantages in most, though the numbers of undecided voters was substantial and in many cases higher than the winner candidate, suggesting that many Texans have not turned their attention to a race that does not yet formally exist.

"It seems clear that the economy is affecting how Texans view public policy options," said Daron Shaw, professor of government at the university. "There is greater support for education spending. There is also increased opposition to perceived accommodations for immigrants (and those who encourage illegal immigration), probably because the public is especially sensitive to fairness in the allocation of limited resources. What's more, these reactions are not confined to partisans of one side or the other. They occur across the board."

"The large number of people who are undecided in all of the election numbers suggest that while insiders and political junkies are paying attention to the run-up to 2010, many Texans are not tuned in yet," said Jim Henson, director of Texas Politics. "Among those who have a preference this early in the contest, the Perry-Hutchison race appears much closer than many people seem to think.

"The economy clearly continues to dominate people's thinking about issues, and Texans remain troubled," Henson said. "Their views on the issues before the legislature clearly present challenges to lawmakers. As the results on immigration, and even voter ID suggest, Texans remain a conservative lot on the whole, across ethnic groups and in some cases, party lines. But the results on education, include higher education, suggest that many Texans want government to act decisively-and spend decisively-in some areas."

A more extensive summary of results can be reviewed in the summary document available for download at the Texas Politics Web site: http://texaspolitics.laits.utexas.edu. Additional data, graphs and information will be posted at the Web site.

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